Request to Retract False Statements About Human Rights Journalist Pieter Friedrich
Open letter to Honorable Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White and Reverend Jesse Jackson
Dear Honorable Secretary White and Rev. Jackson:
It came as a great shock and disappointment to discover, in the early days of June 2022, that despite both of your sterling reputations as community organizers and torchbearers of the American civil rights movement, you fell victim to disinformation to the point of issuing statements denouncing me by name. These statements, unfortunately, were not only riddled entirely with errors but bordered on defamation. I am calling on you, in good faith, to retract your remarks.
Your statements were issued after Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi stated in a 2 June 2022 congressional campaign debate that I am an “anti-LGBTQ” and “anti-abortion” activist who protested him outside his office on 21 May 2022, at which time he alleges that I raised chants of “death to Krishnamoorthi.” Your statements variously echoed these claims, all of which are false, and unfortunately lent the credibility of your prominent platforms to Congressman Krishnamoorthi’s politically-motivated attempt to defame me.
Additionally, Honorable Secretary Jesse White accused me of using “violent” and “racist” rhetoric towards Krishnamoorthi, suggesting that I was criticizing the congressman based on the color of his skin and/or where he was born. Rev. Jesse Jackson further accused me of “making threats against non-white people” based on the color of their skin, religious affiliation, and/or national origin. He alleged that I had employed “racist” and “bigoted” rhetoric in my criticism of the congressman.
Notably, over at least a week of engagement with Honorable Secretary White’s office, I have been repeatedly promised not only opportunities to sit down for lunch with the Secretary, but also assured by his staff that they regret the “ignorance of the person that wrote this about you,” that the Secretary will shortly be issuing not only a retraction but also an apology, and so on. I eagerly anticipate them fulfilling their promises.
Let me first address Krishnamoorthi’s allegation (which was amplified by Honorable Secretary White) that I am an “anti-LGBTQ” and “anti-abortion” activist.
I have a public track record of over a decade as a journalist and activist specializing in issues related to human rights in India. During that time, almost nothing I have done — publicly or privately — has related to any social, cultural, or political issue in the United States. This especially includes issues related to LGBTQ and reproductive rights, topics with which I have had zero interaction since the early 2000s.
In an attempt to defame me in order to try and discredit my work related to human rights in India, some actors associated with the extremist elements which I write and speak against have dredged up a handful of things that I said and did from approximately the age of 17 to 20 and used them to disingenuously and maliciously attempt to portray who I am and what I do today — nearly 20 years later, in most cases — as representative of that past. While I have publicly and repeatedly acknowledged, owned, and repudiated views which I expressed in my late teens and early 20s, these actors have refused to recognize that and instead continued painting me as a “Christian fundamentalist.” This despite my public (and repeated) admissions that, while I was raised within a Christian fundamentalist household, I abandoned and rejected that outlook approximately 17 years ago.
First, I am not an an “anti-abortion” activist. This allegation is based on the evidence that I did, indeed, participate in an anti-abortion rally in 2003. That was a one-time incident, at which time I was 17-years-old. I have not participated in any such events since then, nor do I intend to do so ever again. Does participating in a single anti-abortion rally 19 years ago, at 17, make me an anti-abortion activist today?
Second, I am not now nor have I ever been an “anti-LGBTQ activist.” This allegation is based on the fact that I posted perhaps three or four weblog posts from approximately 2003 to 2006 (at which time I was 17–20) in which I wrote things which were offensive to LGBTQ+ people. This weblog is long since defunct, one of the primary reasons being that it contained views which are not representative of those I hold today. I have publicly acknowledged that I did write these things, that I repudiate and now abhor them, that I apologize for them, that I no longer believe them, and so on. To this I would add: while these unfortunate comments were offensive, they were weblog posts; I have never engaged in any form of activism related to the issue. I would also ask: does writing a few offensive comments 17 to 20 years ago (comments which I have repeatedly repudiated) make me an “anti-LGBTQ activist” today?
In context of both of these issues, I would refer you to articles I have written about my upbringing within a Christian fundamentalist household, how I emerged from it and rejected that ideology a long time ago, and how such an upbringing drives me to oppose all forms of fundamentalism, including Christian fundamentalism.
In regards to Congressman Krishnamoorthi’s defamatory allegation that I called for “death to Krishnamoorthi,” nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, he, no doubt, well knows that, considering the entirety of my work over the past several years has focused on exposing and opposing extremist elements which are responsible for staging massacres of religious minority communities in India, I am unconditionally committed to working for peace in response to the atrocious violence perpetrated against those communities.
The congressman’s basis for that accusation is a single slogan I raised one time at the 21 May 2022 protest, which was “Krishnamoorthi Murdabad.”
“Murdabad” is not a slogan of violence. Approximately 50 percent of the protesters at the time were South Asian origin people. As I have spent over a decade as a journalist specializing in issues related to South Asia, I understood that the protesters would appreciate slogans from their own cultural and linguistic context. In South Asia, “Murdabad” is a routinely used, widely spread political slogan meaning “down with so and so.” Not only is Congressman Krishnamoorthi well aware of that, but he also conveniently ignored that, before I raised a single slogan of “Krishnamoorthi Murdabad,” I raised repeated slogans of “RSS Murdabad” in reference to the fascist RSS paramilitary, Krishnamoorthi’s association with which lies at the root of my criticism of him.
Multiple articles from mainstream Indian media outlets over the past six months or so not only report on usage of that political slogan — indicating it is common parlance within South Asian political rhetoric — but also on its translation as “down with.” Source 1; source 2; source 3; source 4; source 5.
As mentioned, I did very briefly, a single time, raise the slogan in relation to Congressman Krishnamoorthi. However, within cultural context of South Asia, it is widely understood as a political slogan representing impassioned opposition. It is not, in any way whatsoever, understood as any kind of call to violence or call for death.
Furthermore, questions arise about why Congressman Krishnamoorthi waited until 2 June 2022 to raise supposed concerns about my activities at a protest which occurred outside his office a whole 12 days earlier. Why did he not raise such concerns at the 25 May 2022 debate instead? Moreover, why has no law enforcement of any type followed up, ten days after his allegation, to contact me?
Firstly, it is quite obvious that no law enforcement has followed up on the issue because the congressman’s allegations are not only false but outrageously laughable. They have zero credence and, ultimately, damage no one’s credibility but his own. The congressman is not just trying to make a mountain out of a mole hill but to fashion Mount Everest out of a gopher hole. In fact, were he to attempt to raise this issue with law enforcement, I would not be surprised if he risked placing himself in a position of lying to the authorities.
Secondly, Congressman Krishnamoorthi’s raising of this issue at the 2 June 2022 debate instead of the 25 May 2022 debate seems quite obviously motivated by the fact that I had a filmed encounter with him at the 25 May debate which went viral on social media and portrayed him in an extremely negative light. Specifically, after the 25 May debate ended, I calmly approached the congressman to ask him: “What are your views on the RSS? And what are your views on the impending genocide of Muslims in India?” In response, his associates began shouting at me and rushed the congressman out of the room. The video received over 100,000 views on Twitter, and tens of thousands more on other platforms, and was especially bad optics for the congressman.
Moreover, I subsequently analyzed the backgrounds of the entourage of people accompanying the congressman at the debate, including one person who appeared to be behaving as his handler, and wrote an article about how five of these people are long-time activists and especially leaders in an organization called the Overseas Friends of the BJP (OFBJP), which was registered as a foreign agent in 2020. This article was also widely circulated on social media, including by some prominent personalities, and once more contributed to bad optics for the congressman. As an aside, I have inside information which suggests that one of these OFBJP leaders about whom I wrote may be one of the key people who worked behind the scene to instigate both Honorable Secretary White and Rev. Jackson to issue their statements against me.
Thus, it was only after this and other speeches I gave within Krishnamoorthi’s district (which also portrayed him in a negative light and were widely circulated) that the congressman, pressured by the wide distribution of my peaceful activism and journalism, chose — 12 days after the protest outside his office — to publicly raise defamatory allegations against me. It was, I believe, his way of attempting to strike back against me rather than grappling with the facts which I raise about him and his associations.
What are those facts? They have nothing to do with his race, religion, national origin, or any other factor which has been — without basis — alleged by both Honorable Secretary White and Rev. Jackson. My criticism of Congressman Krishnamoorthi is premised entirely on indisputable facts about his association with the RSS and its American affiliates as well as the heavy funding he has received from leaders in those American affiliates of the RSS.
These identical concerns have been raised by a number of Indian-American leaders and organizations, including in an article published in February 2022 in a prominent Indian diaspora media outlet and written by the co-founder of the national organization, Hindus for Human Rights. Considering the author of that article shares the same race, religion, and national origin as Congressman Krishnamoorthi and yet is raising the exact same allegations against him which I am, how is there any basis in the allegations against me made by Honorable Secretary White or Rev. Jackson that I am attacking Krishnamoorthi, in any way whatsoever, for his race, religion, or national origin?
Association with an organization like the RSS is deeply concerning not only because the paramilitary promotes an ethno-nationalist vision of India which seeks to subjugate and/or eliminate religious minorities (including Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, and others), but also because it is implicated in multiple large-scale anti-minority pogroms dating as far back as 1947 to as recently as 2020. Furthermore, the RSS has a heavily documented track record tracing back to the 1930s of identifying itself with (and even interacting with) the Italian fascists of Mussolini as well as with the Nazis of Germany. Its founders notoriously — and openly — pointed to Nazi Germany’s treatment of the Jews as what they believed to be a good model for how to treat Indian minorities.
I am just one out of a great many journalists and academics who have written about this. My own primer article on the nature of the RSS — as well as the extreme violence in which it has been implicated — appears here.
In short, my detailed journalism about the congressman clearly conveys the sole reason I am criticizing him is due to his undeniable, well-documented associations with specific organizations which are — by my estimation as well as that of many others — either fascist outfits in India or outfits in America which are affiliates of fascist outfits in India. A review of my articles on the issue (first article; second article) should make it glaringly obvious to any objective reader that “racism” and “bigotry” have nothing to do with my criticism of Krishnamoorthi — aside from the fact that I am criticizing him for associating with organizations which are guilty of racism and bigotry.
Notably, I made these exact same allegations about congressional candidate Sri Preston Kulkarni in 2020. My allegations were so sound that they were picked up and sourced by both Slate and The Intercept. And also notably, the articles in both outlets were written by Indian-American journalists.
Notably, I also made these exact same allegations about (now former) Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard in 2019. Once again, not only were my allegations so sound that my main article about her was published as a cover article in a progressive Indian magazine (which was publicly affirmed by Indian-American Congressman Ro Khanna), but they were also fact-checked and upheld by DC-based media watchdog Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting.
In conclusion, I believe it has been demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that the statements made against me by both Honorable Secretary White and Rev. Jackson are premised not just on disinformation but even on outright lies. I trust that both the respected gentlemen possess the integrity to recognize how they were, unfortunately, misguided by disingenuous actors seeking to use their platforms to amplify a politically-motived attack on me. And I trust that these respected gentlemen possess the integrity to, in recognizing that their statements are premised on falsehoods, retract them at the earliest.
Furthermore, I trust that both Honorable Secretary White and Rev. Jackson possess such a genuine commitment to human rights that — as perhaps one positive outcome of this whole unfortunate incident — they will begin to lend some attention to the terrifying human rights crisis that is currently unfolding in India at the hands of the fascist RSS.